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online learningCollege ended about 10 years ago for me. That wasn’t the dark ages of technology. We all had laptops and cell phones and constantly checked email.

We all worried about the prices of textbooks too.

Part of me wonders what it would be like if I went to college now. Colleges are starting their fall semesters right about now, and students are scrambling to find cheap versions of their textbooks for classes. These costs add up. College students find themselves spending hundreds of dollars just on books alone.

I was lucky, and tended to read the books in the library or buy them from students who had the classes the semester before. I tried to be as frugal as possible when it came to buying books.

It’s no surprise that a recent Book Industry Study Group survey said 34 percent of college students reported downloading course content from unauthorized websites last spring, up from 20 percent in 2010. (Read Joanna Cabot’s post from last month about the college textbook bubble.)

So, what would I do today?

Napster was big when I was in school. I downloaded song after song without spending a dime. Peer-to-peer systems are still alive, of course, and now students are scrolling torrent sites looking for textbooks. In one day last week, I saw two people on Reddit asking for help finding free downloads of their textbooks.

One of the books, a history book on Western civilization, cost $43.41 new, $38.23 used, or $16.99 to rent from Amazon. The other book was roughly the same price.

For college students, this is a lot of money, especially when you start adding them up over five classes a semester. And these books seem to be on the slightly less expensive side of the equation.

And so I wondered: Would the 20-year-old me do this if I had the opportunity? Would I download my textbooks on torrent sites?

Yes. I am almost sure of it. Anything to save money while in college. Things were expensive enough! Downloading a book would be easy, especially with the formatting software that’s available to make them compatible with e-readers or tablets.

If I were taking a class today, however, and I needed to buy a textbook, I probably wouldn’t download it from an unauthorized website (although I’m all for downloading books and not lugging around a heavy backpack). Perhaps that’s a point of view that comes with getting older and wanting to pay people for their hard-earned work. Or maybe it’s because I no longer feel like I’m about to go broke every other week.

But I see today’s students asking for help, and I get where they’re coming from. Even with all the publishing technology that’s gone mainstream, college textbooks are still expensive. And students still don’t want to pay for them.

 
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